With the achievement of IATF 16949:2016 certification for its motor and inverter automotive production programmes, UK-based Helix has passed a key milestone in its evolution towards higher volume motor and inverter manufacturing.
Shenley Technical Centre, UK, 4 September 2023 – Helix offers its unique motor and inverter Scalable Core Technology (SCT) through three Product Levels – Stock, Configured and Custom – providing a clear pathway to production while matching powertrain requirements with the optimal level of customisation. The company’s motors are already globally renowned for their industry-leading power density and now Helix has the capability to satisfy larger volume manufacturing requirements too.
Newly appointed into the critical role of Chief Manufacturing Officer, Richard Smith brings decades of tier 1 automotive expertise into the Helix executive team. He explains the significance of IATF (International Automotive Task Force) 16949:2016.
“It is a global quality standard adhered to by automotive manufactures and their supply chains. It sets out how the business should be managed to ensure the quality of its output. Without it, you really can’t supply the OEMs.”
“Helix already operated to the required standard and now its future planning is being influenced by it. As it becomes more embedded in what we do, we build the requirements of the standard into our thinking for the future.”
Quality Assurance Manager Joel Williams agrees that the award of IATF 16949 in a way formalises standards and activities with which Helix was already compliant. “Most importantly for the business, it opens the door to larger volume customers. It shows we have control over how we develop products and manufacturing processes, and how we control production. It’s a very positive step in enabling us to go from relatively niche supply to larger volume manufacturing.”
Now Quality Systems Manager, Fulvia Levino joined the company in 2018 and her focus has been on quality systems implementation, processes and documentation. “My first task in 2018 was the transition from ISO 9001:2008 to ISO 9001:2015 standard.” She implemented several processes in creating that foundation, including an internal audit programme, documentation control procedures and templates for business processes to be documented.
At the time Levino completed her ISO 9001:2015 transition work, Integral Powertrain Ltd, now Helix, was an engineering consultancy company with limited manufacturing capacity, primarily serving the motorsport and hypercar industries. With the drive toward larger scale manufacturing gathering pace, however, in 2020 she began working on the company’s IATF 16949 accreditation, using ISO 9001 as the foundation.
Levino explains: “Work on the two-stage IATF certification process involved complying with BSI certification planning, including gap analysis, training on the standard and other requirements, as well as creating a ‘roadmap’, based on the action plan and gap analysis to amend or implement documents and documentary process for IATF compliance. Covering both Helix’s Milton Keynes based Technical Centre and Flexible Manufacturing Facility, BSI issued the IATF 16949 certificate in June 2023. It means that any automotive production programme will now be completed to the standard.” An internal audit process provides assurance that Helix maintains the requirements of the standard defined by IATF 16949, while and annual BSI audit monitors Helix’s continued compliance to the requirements of the standard.
Williams confirms that IATF 16949 also requires Helix to run a level of validation with its supply chain, ensuring that quality standards are met. “That process centres around a core set of tools and processes that we expect our suppliers to adhere to.” Importantly, he also emphasises that accreditation is not something that happens once a year and forgotten about until the BSI Surveillance audit is due 12 months later. Other companies, notably OEMs that Helix might be supplying, may and will come in to audit its processes for IATF 16949 compliance at any time.
“When an OEM works with a certified company their level of confidence in it is already high,” Levino continues. “But when they do choose to audit a supplier, it is usually during the pre-selection phase. We recently hosted a very thorough two-day system audit, for example, which was very much in line with IATF. They may wish to visit for a process audit once a project has been awarded, and also to check responses to any system audit findings.”
Williams has an additional interesting take on IATF 16949. “I think that following the process-driven engineering approach captured within the standard provides cost reduction opportunities. In that sense I see it helping Helix a lot when we engineer for larger production volumes. And those developments could then have benefits for the work we do in more niche markets.”
Looking beyond automotive, to aerospace or marine, for example, the process of gaining IATF 16949 compliance has significant benefits. “IATF 16949 and AS9100, the standardised quality management system for aerospace, are both based on ISO 9001,” explains Williams. “IATF 16949 effectively adds specific automotive activities and tools onto the ISO 9001 standard and AS9100 does the same for aerospace. IATF 16949 accreditation therefore helps us towards AS9100.”
“We expect to engage with BSI to agree on a certification plan for defence and aerospace standards in the near future,” adds Levino. “Once that’s in place, work will commence on the approval process. Meanwhile, our quality management system and qualified auditors perform regular, thorough audits of each department in the business, including project management, design, development, HR, manufacturing, stores and test, as well as auditing for customer-specific requirements.
“If we do identify a non-conformity or deviation, we perform a causal analysis, identify the cause and implement a corrective action that’s assigned to the relevant manager(s) for implementation. Review meetings check on the process until the issue has been resolved and the actions are closed. But we don’t necessarily expect to find problems that need to be fixed, it’s more about finding areas in which we can improve and there are always things any business can do better. The company is changing and embracing new requirements for compliance as it evolves, and we are working as one to ensure we meet those standards.”